Dr. Miti Ruchanurucks, from Kasetsart University's Engineering Faculty, invited me to speak at his 3rd Robot Tech For The Future on November 21, 2017. It was my pleasure to lead the event alongside some of the field's brightest minds and successful entrepreneurs, including Mr. Chalermpol Punnotok, CEO of CT Asia (best known for his popular Dinsow robot!), Dr. Shigeru Kuchii from National Institute of technology, Kitakyushu College, and speakers from Thailand's National Electronics and Computer Technology Center (NECTEC), PTTEP, Solimac, and Robot System.
Throughout the session, I reflected on one big question, 'what does it mean to be human in the age of robotics?'
We live in the age of reversal when robots are becoming increasingly humanized, whilst humans are becoming increasingly robotized. In the industrial age, we built robots to replicate and, in some areas, even replace the human muscles. As robots helped us overcome the limitations of our own muscles, they made mass production, standardization, and division of labor possible for our businesses. In today’s knowledge-based society, scale and scope are no longer primary driving forces of business success. If businesses want to succeed in this day and age, they have to be smart. Robots in the knowledge-based society can replace not only the human muscles, but also the human brain with their artificial intelligence. Since technology and human talent drive our knowledge-based society, what’s going to happen to the labor force, both blue-collars and white-collars, now that robots can replicate our muscles, intelligence, and possibly even our emotions in the near future?
There were clear distinctions in the past: human vs. robots, blue-collars vs. white collars, technical skills to operate robots vs. managerial skills to manage people, command & control vs. collaboration. In the age of robotics, these distinctions no longer work. They are no longer clear-cut because we can no longer deny the power and role of robots in our lives, our work, and our future. We can no longer split our workforce into two categories, blue-collars and white-collars, now that vital skills needed for work and the nature of work itself have constantly evolved over time, many of which have become obsolete or displaced by robots. With robots’ increased capabilities and humanization, human-to-robot interaction is now inevitable. For that reason, the best way to interact with robots is not to command or control them, but to collaborate with them. While potential collaboration among humans and robots is so important, it can only be successful if we realize our very own potential, our human potential.
As humans, we have skills that seem to contrast each other at first glance, but actually complement each other in practice. I split these skills into three complementary pairs. Take leadership and collaboration as the first pair, the first example. Leadership in this day and age is not about command & control, one employer & hundreds or thousands of employees, the trendsetter or the industry leader and a cult following of me-too players and easily influenced customers. As the business landscape becomes more fragmented, even smaller players can find their own niche, relate to more knowledgeable and even hard-to-reach customers, and have their own shot of success. At the same time, collaboration is no longer limited to teamwork. It’s about having a shared vision, shared values, a sense of shared responsibilities, and shared action and translating those into success in this highly interconnected world. It’s not the age for lone wolves who think they can live alone, work alone, lead alone or act alone. It’s not the age for followers, who expect to simply and solely follow and take orders, either. The second pair, complex problem solving and creativity, is about balance. In every real-life situation, we find ourselves trying to seek balance between structure and freedom, instruction and intuition, deepening our thoughts and broadening our imagination. With a whole new set of opportunities and challenges today and in the future, it’s not about choosing one side over the other. It’s about knowing when, where, and how to apply each side. The third pair, decision-making and agility, prepares us for the uncertainty of the future. The world is constantly changing at an unprecedented and rapid rate. Leaders of the future need to be able to make smart bold decisions quickly and confidently. At the same time, they have to be able to understand fast, think fast, and act fast and be prepared to adapt to and thrive in this disruptive world. Once again, decision-making and agility may initially be thought of as contradictory. In practice, they truly complement each other.
It is understandable that humans fear robots. From controlling robots in the past to fear of being replaced and controlled by robots. From inventing robots to disrupt competitors to fear of collectively being disrupted by robots. From striving for more growth and more jobs to fear of the potential jobless growth as more and more jobs continue to be displaced by robots. Nonetheless, I truly believe that when we are able to realize our very own potential, those three pairs of Power Skills that make us truly and uniquely human, we will be able to embrace the other side of fear: Human Potential in the age of robotics.